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The « Rebel »’s reply

8 February 2008 by Jérôme Ollier


Jérôme Ollier’s reply to the opinion piece sent by Bruno Colmant, President of the Brussels Stock exchange, published in the Belgian daily paper Le SOIR, on Tuesday 5 February

Dear Bruno, [1]

I quite agree with you: we did live a unique moment together. I also have a clear memory of our meeting. In the lift I said: You (meaning “the capitalist class”) lost quite a lot earlier this week, didn’t you ? and you answered with something of a smile Yes... 40 billions, under the puzzled stare of the policemen around, surprised as they were by our friendly tone. So you, the president of the stock exchange, felt disturbed by this act…

You write that you were flabbergasted by coincidences: a global stock exchange krach at the beginning of the week, the World Economic Forum at Davos in its wake, that yearly celebration of capitalism that brings together the most ’powerful’ decision-makers on a global scale. This is in no way a coincidence: the stock exchange krach had been looming for months and the World Social Forum has been held every year since 2001 at the same time as the Davos WEF to try and build a counter-power and show that another world is possible. I was not an isolated individual: on that Saturday 26 January over 900 actions took place in over 100 countries all over the globe. Beyond reminding you of your adolescence the banner Make Capitalism History was my own modest contribution to this week of global action.

But let us come to the essential part of your message. You write The stock exchange has an indispensable economic function: it establishes values and underlies the call for risk capital.

I will reproduce here a response I received after your oped, which I find quite relevant. It was written by Eric Toussaint, the author, among other books, of Banque du Sud et nouvelle crise internationale, [2] which I strongly advise you should read: “Come on, Monsieur Colmant, the stock exchange’s main function today is financial speculation. Merger and purchase operations without any industrial project as well as speculation on securities prevail. The sheep-like behaviour of financial markets and the cycles of capitalist economy recurringly entail large-scale stock exchange crises that have deeply detrimental effects on the lives of citizens. In order to ensure that a few who are already very rich acquire even more profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. the future of the vast majority of others is put at stake as in a casino. The real estate speculation that recently hit the United States led to the subprime crisis. In 2007 two million US families were evicted from their homes because they could not pay their mortgage Mortgage A loan made against property collateral. There are two sorts of mortgages:
1) the most common form where the property that the loan is used to purchase is used as the collateral;
2) a broader use of property to guarantee any loan: it is sufficient that the borrower possesses and engages the property as collateral.
. The financial companies that had granted loans at variable rates to already indebted households sold their debt securities to large banks, which found themselves with loads of virtually valueless securities. When they announced losses, stock exchanges plummetted. A large number of citizens could see their life savings jeopardised because of the risky operations of some stock exchange operators. Indeed part of their savings is invested as shares.
"

Along the same line, you claim that capitalism is the natural order of human societies, and consequently cannot be gainsaid. This is wrong. In its current form capitalism has been around for scarcely three centuries. Civilisations had thrived on all continents for millenia before without any notion of capitalism. Humankind can set up organisations that have nothing to do with capitalism. For instance, if we do not set individual profit as the ultimate goal of human behaviour (and please please do not answer that striving towards individual profit is part of the natural order of things for several anthropologists have proved the opposite) and if accumulating capital is not perceived as the heart of economic activities. But capitalism will not disappear on its own, this is for sure, unless our planet can’t take it any more.
There are other forms of domination too: men’s oppression of women, racism, religious discrimination…, all of them must be done away with. We have to set up genuine alternatives. And these have nothing in common with capitalism, or for this matter with the Stalinian totalitarian regimes of the Soviet era, of Pol Pot or the current Chinese dictatorship.

My climbing onto the roof of the stock exchange building is not a crime, it is part of the right citizens have to rise up against oppression and express their opinion. Today in my eyes the natural order of human societies would rather be the determination to act so that fundamental human rights be at last guaranteed to all… While there is no cut and dried solution for socialism in the 21th century, this should not prevent us from attempting to build one.

Jérôme Ollier

Activist of the Revolutionary Communist League Belgium

Belgian section of the fourth International

Here is Jérôme’s email address if you wish to get in touch: jerome at cadtm.org

Opinion piece sent by Bruno Colmant, President of the Brussels stock exchange published in the Belgian daily paper Le SOIR on Tuesday 5 February 2008

The Rebel [3]

These lines are for you, young man whose name I will never know. You wished to draw the attention of the many passersby to the roof of the stock exchange building on Saturday 26 January around twelve noon.

Radios mentioned this in the flow of evening news but I am telling your story to thousands of readers.

Our meeting belongs to one of those unlikely moments in history. You may not have perceived this as you were driven away handcuffed behind the smoked-glass windows of a police car: I was flabbergasted by coincidences and disturbed by the strange feeling that I had just lived a unique confrontation.

It was probably something even deeper: I was divided between the emotion your action had raised in me and the sadness of lost ideals and castaway hopes.

As though the few seconds we had shared had projected me back into the world of adolescence, the carefree time when dreams were possible, before we meet the storms of life and its disillusionments.

We met on the roof of the stock exchange. An apparently well trained mountaineer, you had reached this position by dint of ladders and daring climbing when passersby, alarmed at what they saw, called the police.

Right in the middle of the Davos economic summit, which itself coincided with one of the most tumultuous weeks on the stock exchanges in the past twenty years and with the largest bank fraud ever, you managed to unfold a huge banner on which you had painted the words Make capitalism history… You must have sown several sheets together and had devised an ingenious system of ropes to extend them across. The police and the wind prevented your plans.

As I was the only person working in the building on that Saturday I found myself too on the narrow ledge guiding the police through the dusty corridors of the 19th century building. You quietly allowed yourself to be arrested, and it is while you were held fast in the lift that our eyes met, with mutual respect. You must be around thirty, and you have the insolent eyes of those who rebel against the system.

There is even I thought an eerie parallel with Jérôme Kerviel, the young trader who is said to have blown the brokerage of the French Société Générale.

Just like the Greenpeace activists, you belong to this strange category of people who harbour the fire of rebellion in their eyes and about whom I cannot help wondering what you will be in twenty years’ time.

When I told you I was president of the stock exchange you unerringly called me by my name. You also mischievously asked whether the week had not been too difficult given the market conditions.

Nothing in the way you behaved suggested any levity in your action. You are not one of the rank-and-file anti-globalisation activists. There was no violence in your behaviour, only determination. You had risked your life for an idea. You had used a symbolic building to express your conviction.
But was it worth risking your life and the lives of the policemen who ran after you?

No doubt the daring of your rebellion prompts respect. In L’Homme révolté (The Rebel), Camus said that it was not rebellion as such that was noble, but what it requires. The philosopher said that the rebel – in French ’le révolté’ – etymologically turned around, did a volte. He opposes what he thinks is preferable to what is not.

Like Camus, you rebelled against the stock exchange. But your very rebellion reaffirms its existence. Camus also wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus that it is pointless to die for ideas. So a number of dizzying questions are left hovering: are you right? And if you are on what grounds? For what did you put your own life and the lives of others at stake ?

Hardly had you been driven away than firemen had taken your banner down. Journalists had barely had time to gather. Your ideas are not realistic because capitalism is the natural order of human societies. Your action was a crime. The stock exchange has an indispensable economic function: it establishes values and underlies the call for risk capital.

Yet even if unfounded your action and your banner are disturbing. They made it necessary for me to write these lines.




Footnotes

[1Jérôme addresses Bruno Colmant in the same familiar
manner the latter uses in his previously published piece. Translator’s Note

[2Coédition CADTM-Syllepse, 2008, à commander sur www.cadtm.org, soon available in English too.

[3The whole piece is written in the familiar patronizing ’tu’ form, which cannot appear in the translation. The title is an echo of Camus’ famous 1951 essay L’homme révolté. TrN

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